Real Madrid are hoping seven is their new lucky number, as Los Blancos increased their points lead over archrivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga to more than half a dozen with a 3-1 victory over last place Real Zaragoza.
After being dismissed from the Copa del Rey midweek, Madrid was playing from behind early after an 11th minute goal by Zaragoza’s Angel Lafita. A quickly played free-kick sprung Carlos Aranda on the right wing, and his cross found the foot of Lafita, who beat Iker Casillas from close range.
Real, who haven’t won La Liga in three seasons, immediately stormed back in an effort to get level before the half. A Karim Benzema attempt was blocked by defender Maurizio Lanzaro, and Kaka squandered two opportunities to bring Los Merengues level on crosses from Mesut Ozil and Marcelo. The Brazilian was ultimately able to equalize in the 32nd minute, firing a low shot past keeper Roberto Gago after Ricardo Carvalho’s through ball sent him clear into the area.
The hosts took the lead a mere four minutes after the restart, when Ozil’s cross from the right found the foot of Cristiano Ronaldo, who calmly tapped the ball into the back of the net. Seven minutes later, it was the German playmaker’s turn to get on the score sheet. A superb build-up by Granero and Kaka left Ozil streaking into the left side of the area, and he hammered the ball with his left, forcing it past Roberto from a tight angle.
Barcelona, who sat eight points behind after Madrid’s win, was able to manage only a point by playing to a scoreless draw with Villareal at El Madrigal.
The Blaugrana were lucky not to be sunk by the Yellow Submarine, who could have taken the lead on several different occasions during the first half.
It was Barcelona, however, that had the best opportunity of the half – and possibly the game – when Lionel Messi was one on one with the charging Diego Lopez 17 minutes in. The Argentine calmly chipped the ball over the goalkeeper, but the ball squirmed past the post – allowing the home fans to exhale.
As the game progressed, Barcelona pushed the hosts back deeper into their own third.
Substitute Cristian Tello ran to the byline and cut back cleverly, finding Cesc Fabregas waiting in the 78th minute. The Spaniard’s low shot was deflected on its way to goal, allowing Lopez to get a hand to it and push it firmly against the bar.
With five minutes remaining, a brilliant give and go between Alexis Sanchez and Messi left the World Player of the Year alone with Lopez, who blocked the subsequent shot with his legs. The rebound spilled to Fabregas, whose shot was horrendously off target.
Valencia continued its disappointing form since the New Year, conceding an 88th minute equalizer to squander two points in their 2-2 draw with Racing Santander.
Racing – fourth from last in the league – took an unlikely lead in the opening two minutes with a goal by Adrian Gonzalez, but Aritz Aduriz second-half brace put Valencia ahead. Los Che could not hold the score however, as Bernardo Espinosa drew the home side level two minutes from time.
Valencia has now secured only three points from a possible dozen since the start of 2012.
Confident Getafe deflated Levante 2-1 for their fourth win in their last six La Liga matches. The visitors from Madrid went ahead just after the half-hour mark, as Dani Guiza was able to finish the rebound from his own shot. Getafe grabbed their second in the 82nd, when Diego Castro fired home after Gustavo Munua saved another strike by Guiza. Levante converted a penalty in stoppage time to complete the scoring.
Espanyol moved even with Levante for fourth place in the league with a gritty 1-0 win over Real Mallorca at the Estadi Cornella – El Prat. Vladimir Weiss provided the game’s only goal in the 18th minute, after Mallorca keeper Dudu Aouate collided with one of his own defenders, allowing the Slovakian to strike an easy goal. Aouate’s day worsened two minutes after the break, when he was sent off for bringing down Rui Fonte just outside the area.
A hat-trick by Fernando Llorente proved crucial for Athletic Bilbao, as Los Leones bested Rayo Vallecano 3-2 at Vallecas. The back and forth game saw Bilbao trailing after an 11th minute goal by Michu. The away team did not wait to equalize, with a header by Llorente finding the back of the net only five minutes after going behind. The big Spaniard gave his side the lead in the 23rd, when he chest-controlled a long ball, turned Mikel Labaka and fired beautifully into the far corner. The hosts equalized a mere three minutes later with a rebound goal from Javi Arribas, but Llorente completed his man of the match performance with a 68th minute winner.
A scorching start – with three goals in the first 19 minutes – proved decisive for Malaga in defeating Sevilla at La Rosaleda.
Weligton headed Malaga in front in the seventh, and Seba Fernandez re-established their lead after Antonio Luna equalized for Sevilla.
Despite the exciting early play, the game was defined by the bad temperament of the players, with 12 yellow cards – five for Malaga and seven for Sevilla – and a red card in the 79th for Alarcon Isco, who had been booked just five minutes earlier.
Atletico Madrid continued their renaissance under new manager Diego Simeone by besting Osasuna 1-0 at the Reyno de Navarra. The visitors snatched the only goal of the game five minutes before the break when Diego Godin finished from close range.
Elsewhere in Spain, Granada bested Real Betis 2-1, and Real Sociedad thrashed Sporting Gijon 5-1, fueled by a brace by David Zurutuza in the first three minutes.